Sunday Mailbag

October 9th, 2011 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Hey Tom! I sometimes find myself drawing fairly complex settings for many of my cartoon layouts and more often than I would like to admit I frequently end up illustrating things -especially oval related objects- using Photoshop tools. Earlier this year you posted an illustration of some folks washing dishes with stacks of plates all around the sink area. Do you use tools like the “Elliptical¬¨‚Ć Marquee Tool” to help you achieve some of your artwork or is everything done freehand?

A: Here is the illustration he’s talking about:


Click for a closer look…

While I am all for using the computer to make doing things faster and easier, I won’t do anything to interfere with the cohesive feel of the piece. In other words, if doing something on the computer will make it look out of place in the illustration, I won’t do it that way.

In this illustration, I had to draw several stacks of plates and platters of different sizes all about. The figures and the rest of the illustration were hand-drawn and inked, then scanned and the color done in Photoshop. It would have been easier to leave the dishes out of the inked drawing and use the ellipse tool in Photoshop to create them digitally. Then the dishes would have been perfect ellipses, easy to do and gone much faster. The problem with that is they would have been “perfect ellipses”, with uniform and perfect contours. That would have looked very out-of-place with all the lines and forms inked by hand. They would have looked “digital”, something I try to avoid.

I did use a trick in this illustration to simplify the stacks of dishes. Using an ellipse template (the old-fashioned plastic kind for drawing ellipses of different sizes) I drew just the top plate of each stack in pencil (no food or scraps on it, just the plate) and then inked it with the rest of the drawing. Then after I scanned in the drawing and separated the lines onto their own layer, I selected each top plate line drawing and cut/pasted each to their own layer. Then I created a new layer under each plate and colored it, then merged each with the lines above so I had a single full color plate on a separate layer at the top of each stack. After that it was a simple matter to copy the layers multiple times to create the stacks. I was able to make them “lean” and be somewhat uneven. I would maybe turn one of the layers slightly to break up the monotony. Then I added drips and scraps here and there.

The results are convincing as being totally hand-drawn and in keeping with the rest of the illustration because the lines defining each plate ARE hand-drawn. Using the ellipse template for the pencil drawing keeps the shapes accurate but hand-inking it gives it the right look, imperfections and all. In the same spirit, I hand-ink all the straight lines in the cabinets, flooring and tiles for the same reason… a cohesive, hand-drawn look.

Thanks to Nick Nix of Cicero, ID for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

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